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New Upwork Study Finds 36% of the U.S. Workforce Freelance Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

Upwork (UPWK), the leading online talent solution, released the results of “Freelance Forward: 2020”, the most comprehensive study of the U.S. independent workforce, which found that a significant number of Americans freelanced even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, contributing $1.2 trillion to the economy. This increase was fueled in part by an influx of younger, highly-skilled professionals seeking flexible alternatives to traditional employment.

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“Amidst the economic challenges in 2020, freelancing continues to be an important part of the economy”

Upwork’s seventh annual study1 surveyed more than 6,000 U.S. workers over the age of 18 and found that 59 million Americans performed freelance work in the past 12 months, representing 36% of the U.S. workforce, an increase of 2 million freelancers since 2019.

This year’s research revealed how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the composition and demographics of the freelance workforce.

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Key findings reveal:

  • Amid a global recession, the freelance workforce remains an essential pillar of the U.S. economy: Freelancers contributed $1.2 trillion dollars to the U.S. economy in annual earnings – a 22% increase since 2019.
  • More professionals are freelancing full-time: The share of independent professionals who earn a living freelancing full time has increased 8 percentage points to 36% since 2019.
  • Freelancing increases earning potential: Of those who quit their full-time job in order to freelance, 75% say they earn the same or more in pay than when they had a traditional employer.
  • Young adults are turning to freelancing for economic opportunity: Amid a tough job market for recent college graduates, half of the Gen Z workforce (age 18-22) have freelanced in the past year, and of those, more than a third (36%) started since the onset of COVID-19.
  • Freelancers are increasingly high-skilled: 50% of freelancers provide skilled services such as computer programming, marketing, IT, and business consulting, up from 45% in 2019.
  • Professionals are likely to consider freelance work in the future: 58% of non-freelancers who are new to remote work due to the pandemic are now considering freelancing in the future.

“It’s no surprise that freelancing is on the rise, especially now that we have fully disentangled ‘where’ we work from ‘what’ we work on,” said Hayden Brown, President and CEO of Upwork. “Amid all of the uncertainty brought about by COVID-19, the data shows that independent professionals are benefiting from income diversification, schedule flexibility, and increased productivity. At the same time, companies are finding that these professionals can quickly inject new skills and capabilities into an organization and strategically flex capacity up and down along with changes in demand and workloads. We expect this trend to continue as companies increasingly rely on freelancers as essential contributors to their own operations.”

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